MIAMI, FL - JULY 29: Justin Ruggiano #20 of the Miami Marlins hits the game-winning RBI single in the tenth inning during a game against the San Diego Padres at Marlins Park on July 29, 2012 in Miami, Florida. Ruggiano is one of the Marlins players left to watch carefully in 2012. (Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)
Now that the trade deadline has come and gone, the Miami Marlins have lost a considerable amount of interest. It is very understandable for Marlins fans to have lost interest in this team, seeing as if they were supposed to compete for at least a Wild Card spot and instead disappointed all the way to a current fourth-place standing in the NL East. Marlins fans should be upset that this team has underachieved as much as it has, and now that the club has traded a number of its starting position players in order to reset its position for 2013, it is easy to see why fans might tune out during August and September.
But I encourage Marlins fans not to tune out, and for reasons beyond "being a good fan" of the team. Believe it or not, there are still a number of things to watch for in the 2012 season, and those things, combined with thoughts of 2013, should be enough to keep Marlins fans' eyes on the team for a little while longer.
Jose Reyes has been slowly recovering from a bad start and showing why the Marlins chose to invest $104 million over six years on the shortstop. Since the start of April, Reyes has hit .293/.358/.437 (.352 wOBA). This is a bit lower than what we expected from his before the season (ZiPS projected a .302/.353/.471 line and a .362 wOBA), but it is a better line that Reyes has put up over the course of his career (.291/.341/.439, .345 wOBA). That line since May is also better than all but three of Reyes's top seasons in his career, so he has been consistently good since an ugly start to the season. Reyes's bat has awoken, and with last month's home run display, perhaps the power is finally coming back after something of a long hiatus.
His defense is still questionably shaky, depending on what stats you like to look at, but it is still fun to watch as he makes the sort of plays we never used to see Hanley Ramirez make at the position. And really, the best part about Jose Reyes is just watching him play. He has an upbeat attitude no matter what happens. He runs hard around the bases like few players I have seen on the Marlins. It may sound cliche, but his hustle around the bases is a genuine joy to watch. And the swing is compact and built for hitting line drives, and Reyes is finally doing just that (24 percent line drive rate this season).
Jose Reyes, no matter what the situation, is always a good reason to watch the Miami Marlins. I am extremely glad the team signed him.Justin Ruggiano
If there is one position player whose performance in the next two months is critically important to the 2013 Marlins, it is Justin Ruggiano's. Many of the players starting right now for the current team will not be starters in 2013. Giancarlo Stanton should be returning in about a week, thereby displacing one of the two backup outfielders the Marlins are playing as starters right now. The other outfielder, whether it be Bryan Petersen, Scott Cousins, Gorkys Hernandez, Greg Dobbs, or a combination of those four, will almost certainly be replaced by a free agent signing this offseason.
But that still leaves Ruggiano with a likely starting role in 2013. That role will be dependent on how well his 2012 season turns out. He already has an amazing head start, as his .355/.419/.652 line (.447 wOBA) has already put him way in front to open up his campaign to start in 2013. But what he has already done, while impressive, is a known fluke; career minor leaguers do not just bat .427 on balls in play and hit a .297 ISO after not producing at all in the majors before.
That is why his remaining two months will be most important. He needs to prove not that he can continue this fluky extended hot streak, but that he can become a league average player despite a number of things going against him. He already has shown he has a propensity to strike out and a willingness to chase and whiff on outside sliders when he is behind on the count. The remainder of Ruggiano's 2012 season needs to show that he can make enough contact to remain an average hitter even when that BABIP luck falters and that he can maintain a good amount of power like he began to show the last two seasons in Triple-A. The road from 30 year-old Quad-A player to major leaguer is a difficult path to success, but Ruggiano has two months to show he has what it takes to stick in the bigs.
Giancarlo Stanton's Return
We all know Giancarlo Stanton is worth watching when he hits, because occasionally he breaks stuff in stadiums with his home runs. But the big thing to watch for the rest of the season will be how he handles his return from knee surgery. Stanton is expected to come back as early as next Monday to the majors, so he will have just about two months to show that his knee is healthy and that it is not affecting his offense or his defense. Many of us still recall the ugly defensive month he had in April; since then he has improved, but how will a month off rehabbing an injured knee take away from his natural range in the outfield? He needs to show that he is healthy and ready to carry the team again, because he is the Marlins' new franchise player and the team needs to be able to depend on his health to be competitive.
The Young Pitching
The biggest thing about the Marlins' two major trades a week before the deadline was that they acquired starting pitching to fill the holes they would have had in 2013. But it is imperative that the Marlins view the development of Jacob Turner and Nathan Eovaldi at the major league level in 2012. Eovaldi is already in the rotation, primarily due to the fact that he was pitching in the Los Angeles Dodgers rotation before being traded. Turner has yet to make his Marlins debut, but the front office has said that it will not be long until the team sees him in a Marlins uniform.
Both players need to show that they can be ready by 2013 to be back-of-the-rotation starters at least. Eovaldi has been surprisingly decent thus far in his career despite being continually criticized for his lack of third pitch and mechanical flaws. Turner is the more highly-regarded prospect, but his time in Triple-A in 2012 has not been good, and his first start in Triple-A New Orleans was not pleasant despite a lack of runs allowed. Both players need to make small improvements on their current issues. For Eovaldi, that is his control and that third pitch, though the recently-added cutter shows some promise. For Turner, it is the return of some strikeouts, even for a guy who was never considered a whiff artist and who depended more on control and ground balls.
The Bullpen Conundrum
So far, the Marlins' bullpen-by-committee approach has gone over well, if only because that approach has more or less given way to "Steve Cishek is the closer." Still, it may be worth keeping an eye on the arms in the pen to see if the ones that are certain to return next season are going to be better. You cannot make those judgments on guys like Cishek, Mike Dunn, and Heath Bell without at least watching the rest of the year. Given that those three figure to play a prominent role in 2013's pen, they are among the players to watch this season.
See, there are still quite a few reasons to watch the Marlins in 2012. Yes, these may be the only positives left on this team. But there are also clearly stakes for the 2013 team still left to play for in 2012. So despite the Marlins being way out of the playoff race at this stage, I implore Marlins fans to continue to keep an eye on this team, if only to watch these factors that could influence the Fish next year.